In merry band of mischief, they can be

In this lesson, we explore Gordon’s theory of classroom management and discover the proper ways to foster mutually beneficial relationships and how to manage discipline in the classroom.

Background on Gordon’s Theory

Problem children are never fun for teachers. Whether they’re not doing their school work, generally being loud and disruptive, or even recruiting other normally good students into their merry band of mischief, they can be exhausting little terrors to teach. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. In this lesson, we’ll explore Gordon’s theory of classroom management, an exciting method of in-class behavioral management which attempts to get each child to take responsibility for their own actions and become self-reliant, attentive students.

The Basics of Gordon’s Theory

Gordon’s theory, naturally, was formulated by a man named Thomas Gordon. Born in Illinois in 1918, Gordon flew in the Air Force during WWII before going on to get his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago. Gordon first formulated his ideas in the 1960s. The crux of his philosophy is that coercive relationships are detrimental to both parties.For example, traditionally in the classroom, the teacher wields absolute power to task, award, and punish.

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Gordon believes this type of power can undermine otherwise productive student-teacher relationships. As a result, according to Gordon’s theory of classroom management teachers are encouraged not to discipline students in the traditional manner. Instead, teachers should foster open relationships marked by excellent student-teacher communication that encourages the student to take an active role in their own behavior and understand that it is their own choice and in their own best interest to behave in a manner that benefits the student, the teacher, and the rest of the class.

Gordon’s Theory in the Classroom

There are several useful tools prescribed by Gordon that can achieve this vital balance.

One of the guiding principles is the ownership of problems. Behavioral problems are ‘owned’ by those who they affect. So if a student’s behavioral issue is affecting only the student’s well-being and performance, it is solely his/her problem. Likewise, if the problem affects the entire class, then it becomes the class’ problem.Once this value is instilled in the class, it’s important for the teacher and student alike to actively listen to one another’s feelings and motivations when behavioral problems arise. For example, if a student is not turning in their assignments, it is the student’s problem – the negative impact mainly affects him or her. However, if the teacher listens to the student’s justification for his or her behavior, the teacher can gain greater insight into the student’s situation, and together they can arrive at a better plan of action for both parties moving forward.

This solution is far more preferable than any punitive measures the teacher might employ which would simply breed resentment between both parties.Now, when a problem is mainly the teacher’s, it’s important for the teacher to employ what Gordon labeled as I-messages. I-messages are direct, non-confrontational messages which explain the teacher’s needs, feelings, and the ultimate problem they are having.

The idea behind such candid conversation between student and teacher is for the students to understand that their instructors have similar needs and wants and that the students can adversely affect the teacher’s well-being through poor behavior. Teachers can also use I-messages preemptively, telling students how their actions could affect themselves, the teacher, and the class as a whole.Through developing open communications and fostering non-confrontational problem-solving skills, teachers and students alike can maintain a healthier learning environment. According to Gordon, this can be taken even further in collaborative classroom management.

Through engaging students in setting classroom rules, seating charts, and other important decisions traditionally made solely by the teacher, the teacher is engaging the students and encouraging them to take more ownership in the educational process in general.

Lesson Summary

Gordon’s theory of classroom management was first developed in the 1960s by the psychologist Thomas Gordon. Gordon’s theory eschews traditional disciplinary measures and the idea that the teacher should hold absolute power over the classroom. Instead, the teacher should be non-confrontational and should involve the students more in the educational process and encourage them to take responsibility through their own actions. Encouraging open lines of communication, through actively listening to students who are having trouble and similarly communicating plainly a teacher’s needs and wants through I-messages, which are direct, non-confrontational messages which explain the teacher’s needs, feelings, and the ultimate problems they’re having, can go a long way toward creating these.

Indeed, correctly implementing Gordon’s theory cannot only create a more harmonious classroom, but ideally end the need for traditional discipline altogether!


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